Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common form of heart disease in Europe and the United States. It is caused by a narrowing of the arteries due to deposits of fat and cholesterol, preventing enough blood reaching the heart. Symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath and numbness in the arms and shoulders, and the disease can lead to heart attack.
However, whilst scientists know that high fat and high cholesterol diets play a significant role in the disease, they do not understand fully what makes some people more susceptible to the disease than others. They believe that many factors contribute, both environmental and genetic.
"Coronary artery disease is a major health issue in the Western world and we want to get to the root of what causes it", stated Professor Dominique Gauguier from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford. "It is a complex disease, so it's impossible to say We've found the gene for CAD. Rather, it is caused by a number of factors, including the interaction of genes with other genes and with the environment."
Professor Gauguier, a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow, is leading an international consortium, known as Functional Genomic Diagnostic Tools for Coronary Artery Disease (FGENTCARD). The project, which has received 3 million euro over 3 years from the European Commission, involves academic and industrial scientists from the United Kingdom, France, Denmark and Lebanon.
The consortium will use the latest technologies for analysing DNA to identify those at risk from CAD. These include functional genomics, taking a sequence of the genome and analysing the function of individual genes and their interaction with other genes to understand the role they play in disease.
Amongst other things, the study will look at the extent to which CAD risk factors, such as insulin resistance, hypertension and obesity, can be predicted using biomarkers in the blood. Scientists have already identified biomarkers which, when found in elevated levels, indicate the presence of certain types of tumour.
In addition, Professor Gauguier hopes that the study will offer an insight into tackling other complex diseases, through therapeutic and strategic means. "We believe the study will play a key role in identifying targets for novel therapies to tackle the disease", stated Professor Gauguier. "Ultimately, we hope that the wealth of information obtained by the project and the techniques that it helps us develop will lead to significant advances for disease diagnosis and prevention."
FGENTCARD builds on previous Wellcome Trust-funded research including BAIR, the Biological Atlas of Insulin Resistance, and CFG, the Cardiovascular Functional Genomics consortium.